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Barry Schrader


I wrote this weekly column for the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, Illinois from December 2007 until May 2011.

If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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A note to readers: After 3½ years of meeting weekly deadlines, I have decided to take a break from column writing. So my column next week will be the final one. I have appreciated the chance to interact with so many readers, and I hope to return to writing after taking some time off.

DeKalb had role in first guided missile

By Barry Schrader.................................May 24, 2011

Roger Keys earlier this month shared his research on the work done at the Wurlitzer and Interstate Aircraft plants in DeKalb during World War II with members of the DeKalb County Historical-Genealogical Society.
Keys told how he had picked up a model plane at a garage sale in Waterman for $5 more than 20 years ago and no one could identify it for years. Finally, someone who worked at Wurlitzer during World War II told him it was a drone they built for the Navy. Keys’ passion for tracking down more details has kept him engaged for nearly a decade.
It all started in 1942 when Wurlitzer signed a contract with the Navy to convert its peacetime piano factory into an aircraft production facility, along with an adjacent plant, Interstate Aircraft. It took Wurlitzer just seven months to completely retool its facility and start manufacturing parts for the mostly wooden

Roger Keys shows off his model of the TDR assault drone, which were planes used during World War II. The parts were manufactured at the Wurlitzer plant in DeKalb and built at the adjacent Interstate Aircraft plant. (Barry Schrader photo)

drone. The Interstate plant workers assembled the aircraft next door. Today that building is owned by General Electric. You can still see the large hangar doors on the plant from Peace Road.
Since it was classified as a top secret wartime project, the 1,400 employees believed they were producing a trainer plane or a target drone. Little did they know the aircraft was an assault drone that could carry a 2,000-pound bomb to its target while being remotely controlled from a nearby mother plane.
“It was actually known as the first guided missile ever used in combat,” Keys said. During a two-year period there were 189 planes built at the DeKalb complex. They were then delivered to a remote island base in the South Pacific where they were readied for missions against Japanese targets.
The plane was designed with a fully-operational cockpit with canopy so a pilot could fly it up to 700 miles before landing and converting to a remote-control system. The control plane, which could be up to six miles away, transmitted radio signals to guide the flight, including the drone’s speed and altitude.
Keys explained that the main component that made it top secret was a television camera mounted in the nose behind a glass shield. The crew in the mother ship could watch the picture being transmitted from the nose of the drone and use it to pinpoint the target on the ground or sometimes an enemy ship.
Over the years he has talked to many of the former workers at the two DeKalb plants and said none of them realized it was actually operational in the South Pacific. “I like to see credit given to those on the homefront here in DeKalb for their efforts in World War II,” he added. At the conclusion of the project there was a special ceremony held at the Egyptian Theatre in DeKalb where the workers were presented with the Army-Navy “E” for Excellence Award.
Keys also told the audience that the drone will be featured on a future episode of the PBS TV series “History Detectives,” tentatively scheduled to air July 17. It seems when he was making a presentation in the fall at the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport someone in the audience had apparently found a wooden propeller many years ago on a grass airstrip near Virgil. The man still had it and wanted to find out if it might possibly belong to the drone. The man later contacted the “History Detectives” producers and they took an interest in researching the mystery. Keys assisted them with photos and other material he has in his collection.
He would like to find some of the former plant workers and others interested in the plane so he can organize a special viewing of the show in DeKalb. Anyone interested can contact him through email at keysrw@comcast.net or by mail at 1204 Elizabeth St., DeKalb, IL, 60115.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115